Monday, September 20, 2010

Ganapati as Vinayak; Ganapati as Maurya

A Preamble

There are disadvantages in getting a formal education that is now fashioned in India mainly by the efforts of missionaries and evangelists (usually Christian/western, when they are fashionable). One loses contacts with one’s roots. These roots, if you are lucky enough, continue to influence your lifestyles. It comes in the shape of the various festivals associated with the worship of various gods of the various religions that allow such festivities.

The Ganapathi festival is one such in Mahrashtra which is celebrated with much enthusiasm and happiness as judged, say, by its commercial benefits. This spirit of the festival cannot be analyzed in terms of who Ganapati is and what he represents. The festival has a mass acceptance and so it has a validity that has to be simply imbibed and enjoyed without ever being influenced subjectively by any formal rules decreed by educational standards that establishes an established class.

So, this blog will not at all attempt (nor has it the competence) to un-establish any aspect of the festival of a god who is a family god (kuladaivat) for less than five percent of the families (mainly Brahmin) but is universally prayed to before starting anything auspicious.

I will be giving various other names such as Ganapati, Ganesha, Ganesa, Ganeśa for the same god simply because, among other things, I don’t think I have the right way to write the name in the roman script.

A Preamble

Ganapati is the village god (gram daivat) of Pune.

One of my first important impressions of Pune was the importance given to Ganapati or Ganesha or Ganesh, the character we loved as children during our Bengali childhood days during Durga Puja. I know I (knowing my mother) liked him because of the story that he would go round his mother when he had to go round the world. I heard about the famous ashtavinayak (eight ganeshsas) scattered around Maharshtra and how it is auspicious to have a darshan of these vinayaks. I imagined the images of the ashtavinayaks to be the kind that we are used to with an actual elephants head and crown and four hand holding the modak and other (usually saivite) paraphaernelia depending on the traditions or the idiosyncracies of the worshipper.

A Mahrashtrian director of the national laboratory, where I worked, claimed to be a huge devotee of ganapati. He would have a very warm and very generous celebration during the Ganesh puja with his entire family playing very gracious hosts. There would be the usual elephant-headed ganesha idol installed for worship in his house. He is the one who literally impressed upon me the way Ganesha was so dear to everyone in Maharashtra. It seemed to be so as almost every middle class family would have loved to have done the same if they could have afforded it or if they had such a large family of friends they could influence.

The second curiosity about the Ganapati festival was the cheering crowd singing and dancing to the refrain of Ganapati bappa Morya (as above or at the end). It took me some time to realize that Morya is not the Marathi equivalent of jai ho or “long live” but was actually the name of a person. Not only that. I found out that this Morya took a nirvikalpa or sanjeevan Samadhi (live burial) from which they leave their body (die, to ordinary mortals) and attain nirvana when they do not return to their ego-consciousness. This is the way good yogis are supposed to achieve their life’s ambitions.

It is only natural now for us to think of Ganesha literally with the head of an elephant. But if you think of the elephant-head only figuratively then it’s a different matter altogether. The first thing is that you lose your childishness. The second is, of course, you have so many things to figure out figuratively.

What this blog is not about.

This blog will not be about the origin of the elephant-headed-ness of Ganesa. Every ganapati or ganesha that is installed now has an elephant head. Early (at least definitely 1000 A D) sculptures and paintings in the rest of India would have such images of Ganesha. It would be earlier by half a millennium, if you are, say, in Indonesia, making you wonder if ganesha did not come from the elephant-loving people in that region, say, Cambodia. This also does not say anything about when Ganapathi as an elephant god was established in the Indian consciousness. In the early days a god would have been worshipped only as stones; the identity of the god given to a stone would depend on the worshipper. The same would probably be applicable to clay or terracotta images which were to be worshipped and later immersed in water. Knowing an Indian mind one can hardly expect a reasonably common image for a particular god, no matter how unique the description of the image is.

The blog will also not deal with the way vinayak has been interpreted to mean a remover of obstacles. Vinayak in this case would be thought to have derived from Sanskrit rules:- from vi and ni ( = nayati) which means to lead or take away, dispel, expel which could be a way to be a “remover of obstacles”. But then, we have no information about the way Ganapathi was referred to in the other languages and their roots. One finds, for example, that Lord Ganesh is known by varied names in various regions. For example, ganesa is known as Pilliyar in Tamil, Mahapini in Burma (Myanmar) Dhotkar in Mongolia, Pradganesh in Cambodia, Kalantak in the Java islands, kvanshitiyik in China and Vinayakasha in Japan where he is also known by other names such as Shōten, Daishokangi-ten, Kangiten, Ganabachi (if you ask a Japanese to say ‘Ganapati’ he would probably say ‘ganabachi’), Binayaka-ten ("binayaka" showing a Bengali connection of the japanese?).

What this blog seems to be about

This blog will be about some thoughts about the ashtavinayak-ology of the region around Pune with emphasis on the importance of the word vinayak and some implication of a possible Buddhist root.

So what is it that we learn from ashtavinayaks?
I asked Lalitha (my better half by far) what vinayak meant in sanskrit (following the scholarly-minded Indian's tradition to find all roots in sanskrit, which is incorrect, of course). She referred me to Apte’s Sanskrit-English dictionary. Under Vinayak it had the following:-
1. A remover of obstacles
2. N. of Ganesa
3. N. of Garuda
4. A Buddhist deified teacher
5. An obstacle impediment
6. A spiritual preceptor

1. A remover of obstacles. Among the six meanings the first is well known and accepted. What one means by obstacles is not clear, especially if vinayak should mean what it does in meaning No 5.

2. Name of Ganesa. So is the second one; using Ganesa in stead of Ganesha is like using Siva instead of Shiva. Siva is said to be of Tamil origin, meaning red in Tamil. The ashtavinayaks are reddish in colour.
However … …
In the Rgveda (where will we be without our Rgveda? more correct about our origins?) Ganapati first appears as an attribute of Brhaspati as a “lord” of a group of gods … Indra is known as another Ganapati in the same sense. " ... in the long and formidable list of as many as eighty-five names of gods and folk deities in the Pãpamocana Sūkta of Atharveda, Ganapati and Ganeśa are conspicuous by their absence …

3. Name of Garuda. In the 2008 online book Buddhism in South India by Dhammaratana Mahathera published by Buddhist Publication Society Kandy, Sri Lanka, it is written that “… because the worship of the Buddha was popular among the masses … (it became necessary) to incorporate him into the Hindu pantheon … Buddha was called Vinayaka and was equated to the elephant-faced god Ganesh. Vinayaka was a name used by the Buddhists for the Buddha. …” By this logic the Vaishnavites could have chosen the name Vinayak for Garuda while the Shaivites chose the same name for Ganesa.
This possibility of Ganesa and Garuda having the same name, vinayak, could solve a lingering puzzle in my mind ever since I visited the Trishundya ganapathi temple in Kasbapet, Pune. In the front of the temple is a figure which at first glance would seem to be an elephant, until you look closely and find that it has no trunk and instead has a horn. So you think, it must be a rhinoceros, wondering what a rhinoceros is doing in Pune. The rhinoceros is togged up like an elephant which is rare for a rhinoceros, even in India. It also did not look too much like the Indian rhinoceros (Fig 1 right top). More importantly, the nose part of the face did not look like that of a rhinoceros at all. I attributed it in my earlier blog to the inexperience of the artist. I thought at that time that the nose looked more like that of a falcon.

Now, after starting this blog, the nose of the rhinoceros looks more like that of Garuda (see inset in grey In Fig 1, left). I might as well add that the nose also resembles the beak of Horus, the Egyptian god with a hawk’s head (other inset of Fig 1) and many forms. It would moreover seem (to a not too prejudiced mind) that the horn of the rhinoceros in Fig 1, left, was inserted later (click to expand). The idea of having composite animal made out of many parts of other non-human animals is not that uncommon. On the railing of a stupa in sanchi from the 2nd century BC is a composite animal of an elephant, a bull and an horse (Fig 1 right bottom). As mentioned in my earlier blogs (Pune Stree Scenes, III and IV or Trishundiya Ganapati) the trishundiya ganapati temple at Kasbapet has definitely both Vaishnavite and Saivite influences (among others).
The word Vinayaki in this dictionary means Garuda’s wife, and nothing else. In this case, Vinayak definitely, if not uniquely, refers to Garuda. On the other hand according to at least one web site there is a sixth century description (which could have indeed flattered da Vinci’s Mona Lisa) of Vinayaki as
Prostrations to the Goddess Vinayaki,/who is an elephant above the neck / and below is a youthful female./ Salutations to Sakti- Ganapati who/ is vermilion, the color of the horizon/ when the sun is about to set, her/ corpulent belly hangs out enticingly / her breasts bend her waist with their/ weight and she sports ten splendid/ arms holding weapons.
I don’t know whether Garuda is, like Ganesha, also a remover of obstacles. Lalitha was advised by (the equivalent of) a soothsayer we know and trust, to say Jai Garude seven times before starting out on her car journeys to protect herself from accidents.

4. A Buddhist deified teacher. The fourth meaning of vinayak being a Buddhist deified teacher is a tough one to substantiate within the limited knowledge available to this blogger. Here is one attempt.
Among the ashtavinayaks there is one, Shri Girijimataj (Girija = Goddess Parvati; Atamaj means ‘son’.), which is somewhat different from the others.
It is the only one of the ashtavinayaks situated on a hill (Lekhan hills of Lenyadri).
It is the only one of the ashtavinayaks in which it is difficult to identify a ganapathi figure (top right of the ashtavinayaks in Fig 4)..
It is the only one situated in cave which is part of a Buddhist complex of at least seventeen other caves.
The idol is the only one to be carved on a wall.
It is the only one with its face seemingly turned to the left so that only one eye is seen.
These Buddhist caves are associated with the Heenayan sect. The Heenyan sect of Buddhism, is from the Sthaviravad school in which nirvana is achieved when individual identity is removed by deep meditation which could include Samadhi. In the Heenyan sect an individual monk begins his first steps towards achieving the supernatural state of arhant by beginning his travels in a small or lesser (Heen) vehicle (yan) to cross rivers of suffering. The Vinay Pitak in the Sthaviravad school is the first of three (Tipitak) volumes which contains the rules or the disciplines for the conduct of the order.
The first chapter of the interesting book on “Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God” by R L Brown, is by one A. Narain who writes that ‘… the name Ganeśa, is not found at all in the Vedic literature…Ganeśana and Ganeśvara, however, do occur there but they are used for our Śiva … Ganeśvara is used as an epithet of the vinayakas, and it is said that these “ganeśvara-vinayakas” control all the world…’. … Vinayaka could mean a leader or guide (from vi > naya) for regulating, controlling, or implementing order and discipline …
It is only in this sense could I think of vinayak being a Buddhist deified teacher.
As I will suggest below these deified teachers may have been looked upon as obstacles.

5. An obstacle, impediment. It is somewhat surprising to think of a vinayak as an obstacle or impediment accustomed as we are to the happy imaginaries of the elephant god being a remover of obstacles.
As a frst attempt to understand this, one may imagine that a vinayak is one who enforces the Vinay Pitak, which enforces discipline or rules. He is then an obstacle --- ask any schoolboy completing his homework!
From netsay --- which could be as bad as hearsay --- I learn that there could be vinayak (gan) who create obstacles. They are presiding deities of lower level servers or assistants. The king of the ganas is ganapati. The way I understand it (now) is that the vinayaks create obstacles (citing rules, for instance) and one prays to their leader (their ganapathi) to remove the obstacles. I guess, in the modern context, the vinayak could be looked upon as, say, a government servant, such as a bureaucrat, a corporator, or a judge, or a minister. One can now understand from our modern day experiences what it means when the website says “when they (vinayaks) start harassing, people begin to behave as if insane, get horrifying nightmares and constantly harbor fear.
Vinayak is also thought to be derived from viseshrupen nayaka or one who has all the qualities of a leader.
In Brown’s “Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God”, Narain writes that unlike Ganapati and Ganeśa which convey the sense of individual leadership or lordship “Vinayaka” conveys different and multiple meanings depending upon whether it is ‘… used in singular or plural number….In the Mahabharata too the vinayakas are looked upon as unfriendly, malignant demons like bhutas, raksas and pisacas in numbers more than two…

I wonder whether the elephant-eared (if not elephant-headed) figures on the upper part of the front of the Trishundiya temple (Fig 2) are vinayaks (or vinayakis, since they seem to be ladies). The elephant-sized ears may have been necessary to accommodate the huge ear decorations.

It is difficult to look at a sculpture and decide who it is. For example, the photographs of the sculptures in Fig 3 are taken from Indian Archeology, A Review, 1983-1984. The sculpture on the left is that of a gana, a sort of vinayak attendant, the one in the middle is Daksha, a creator god who was cursed with the face of a goat by Siva because of a quarrel with siva who did not stand up when Daksha entered the room; the sculpture on the right is said to be Parvati. These sculptures are from the same time eighth to 12th century AD. Thes have the same style despite their different stature. They also have what could very well be a modak, Ganapati's favourite sweet in their left hand. The vinayak attendant at the left of Fig 3 hardly looks like a demon, the way we usually perceive it. It looks like a court jester. Knowing some of our present day jesters, demon may not be a misnomer.
Five elephant-headed figures in Mathura museum (which I have not seen) have been identified as a yaksaperhaps an offshoot of Kubera iconography” (V. S. Agrawala).
Coomarasamy has noted that even Ganesa could be considered to be an yaksa type because of his big belly and irregular looks.
One of the earliest images that bears a resemblance to Ganesa is a Terracotta Ganesa (50 B C 300 A D, Fig 4 left) found in the Veerapuram district, Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh. A sketch of this terracotta figure is taken from Brown’s book (Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God). There are often representations of pot-bellied figures which are identified as Kubera (Fig 4 right, From Indian Archaelogy 1983-1984, Plate 61, p 137).
All the ashtavinayaks are pot-bellied, satisfying at least one vinayak criterion.
Could the ashtavinayaks be a reference to eight of these gan vinayaks, if that is the right word?
In the earliest (Manava gruhyasutra, 2nd century BC) set of domestic rules there are thought to be four Vinayaks:- Shalakankat, KushmanDarajputra, Urimat and Devjayan. One rishi Yadnyavalkya has six Vinayaks, two (Urimat and Devjayan) from the manava gruhyasutra have been left out; two (Shalakankat and KushmanDarajputra) have been split further. These six vinayaks are Mit, Sammit, Shal, Kantak, KushmanDa and Rajputra.
Altogether we will have eight names if we make vinayaks out of all of them. I dont require making a statement that these are not the names of the ashtavinayaks but they are the names of eight (ashta) vinayaks.

6. A Süiritual Perceptor (not necessarily Buddhist, to distinguish it from 4) The last meaning for vinayak in Apte’s dictionary is ‘a spiritual perceptor’. There is no entry for “perceptor” in the Thesaurus.
The computer insists on changing the word ‘perceptor’ to “preceptor” who is a teacher, or a specialized tutor as per netsay.
According to Wikipedia “Perceptor is a renowned Cybertronian scientist. He craves knowledge. His discoveries have helped his allies on many occasions. His specialties lie in metallurgy, electrical engineering, and other sciences closely related to Transformer physiology though his intlligence has made him reliable in many fields.
Ganesha would have been happy with this description, though I am sure Apte did not mean this kind of technical perceptor.
We will take a preceptor to mean a preceptor.
The above discussions on points 1 to 5 has been aimed to lead up naturally to what we started with. Ganpathi as Moraya.
Among the eight vinayaks the one (top left of the ashtavinayaks in Fig 4, I think) named Moreshwar at Morgaon is considered to be the most important. Moregaon is so named because there used to be peacocks (more, in Marathi, mayur in Hindi) in that place. Moreshwar could mean a god on a peacock. The trishundiya ganapati in Kasbapet sits on a peacock.

Moreshwar could also mean lord of the Mauryas. That would be another link.
People with name More (pronounced in Marathi as Moray) are descendants of a Mourya clan. This Mourya clan has amongst them the proud name of the early 17th century Marathi saint Tukaram, a legend in Mahrashtra.
The region between present-day Karnataka and Mahrashtra and also adjoining Andhra has been historically a centre of epic battles between the Marathas, Hoysala kings, Tipu Sultan, Deccan Sultanates, Shivaji….
It has also been an area where Hindus (it is difficult to say what an Hindu is) Muslims (they know who they are) and Buddhists (who have always been here). The Shaivites and Vaishnavites fought ideological battles here and tried their best to usurp dominating local Buddhist influences (not of Buddha himself perhaps but of the culture of the people that Buddha came from) into their folds.
In this area of Chitradurg there are stone structures where Asoka edicts have been found. These stone structures are known as Morya dinne which means mounds of the Moryas. The Imperial Gazetteer of India of 1908 says “…At the Ankli math, west of Chitaldroog, is a remarkable series of subterranean chambers, containing shrines, lingams, baths, and pedestals, the latter apparently for yogsana. They are unused, and nothing is known of their history. … They may be 300 to 500 years old in their present form, but the caverns must have existed long before."
These caves, known as Pancha Linga caves, are sites for treks among the more "adventurous" Indian midlle class.
The Moregaon vinayak of the ashtavinayak could be connected to the “spiritual perceptor" meaning of vinayak.
It is at Morgaon that the most communicative aspect of Gāṇapatyas, who have Ganesa as their central deity, developed in Sivaji’s time among predominantly Brahmin communities in the Marathi-speaking region.
As per netsay, Gāṇapatyas regard Morya Gosavi as their spiritual leader. This is uncontested.
Why they do so is not clear.
I prefer the Wikipedia account of Morya Gosavi which hails him from Bedar district in present-day Karnataka where the Maurya influence was strong. He ran away from home.
Morya Gosavi came to Morgaon and regularly visited the Morgaon temple where the swyambhu vinayak idol of Ganesa is installed.
He came under the influence of a Gosavi teacher, Nayan Bharati, who cured him when he was very ill. His parents changed his name to Morya-Gosavi.
The legend of Morya Gosavi would (perhaps) be continued in another blog, especially in the context of the temple at Chinchwad, the Dev family and a Kasbapet Ganpathi.
Morya Gosavi followed his teacher into sanjeevan Samadhi (living burial), where he attained nirvana.
He must have been a very influential teacher and a “spiritual perceptor".
The cries of “Ganapathi bappa Mourya” could be an acknowledgment by the people of his devotion and efforts to spread Gāṇapatya.

In the final analysis, it is the fact of this acceptance by the people that remains entrenched in the conscious or subconscious minds of his follower when Ganapti bappa Morya is hailed.

Whether it has its historical roots in Buddhist influences from Asoka’s Mauryan kingdom is another matter.

At least now I, if not we, have an insight into why Apte’s dictionary has six different meanings for Vinayak. Ganapati as an obstacle remover is the vinayak of the vinayakas who place obstacles. The spiritual part of the vinayakas are probably of Buddhist origin.

In the meanwhile younger generation girls (here in the video is the Dyan Prabodhini girls school in Sadashivpet) of a future India will continue to dance singing the praises of Ganapati bappa Morya.


Unknown said...

amazing blog !!! very well written !! I had never thought over the festival so deeply. I am glad that you did , and took the efforts to write it down in the blog and shared it with the general public.

BTW.. just a friendly suggestion, did you tried to send this to Sakal ppl, even a wider spectrum of public will come to know about this.

Thanks again, keep posting !!!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.